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I remember that at one point when I was young, I think I was 7 or 8, my parents told me I had to come to a funeral with them of some great auntie I didn’t know. The idea was that I could experience what a funeral was so that if someone close would pass away I would know what it would be like. 

In the Netherlands for various reasons it’s not very common to take young children to funerals. Mainly it’s fear that it might be traumatic to be exposed to such a sad event but then there’s also more practical reasoning as well.

When my dad passed, my initial reaction was to arrange a babysitter for the day of the funeral. However, that first thought went away quite fast – why couldn’t he come? It was not only my dad – it was also his grandfather! The grandfather that was so proud of his grandson. The grandfather that when he got sicker and sicker and couldn’t move much anymore still tried to play games with him by hiding his face behind burpee cloths and by pulling toys away with all of the possible strength he had left in his body suffering from ALS. The grandfather that, especially during the last months, no matter how sick he was, got his little moments of joy by just watching his grandson play in front of him. The grandfather that almost drove off the road in his wheelchair laughing out loud because he couldn’t move his hands anymore but let his grandson manage the joystick. Shouldn’t that grandson that played such an important role in the last year of his life be at the goodbye ceremony?

When I was thinking more about it, I also realized that I didn’t agree at all with the reasoning of hiding little children from sad events. Life is not only sunshine and happiness, sad things happen every day (unfortunately we only have to put on the news to evidence that), and people around us die. But that is the reality of life. Why should we hide that from our kids? Will they be traumatized if we involve them to a certain extent in these events? I choose to believe they won’t. I actually think it will help in their development if from a very young age they see that these things happen and that yes, there are sad days but after sad days come beautiful days again.

That’s also the circle of life.

If they only see the happy things for the first years of their lives, how will they be able to deal with sad events when they get older? Because it’s inevitable that they will experience these at some point!

Obviously an 11-month-old doesn’t understand death and funerals but they do definitely feel it when their parents and other close relatives are very sad. So why not involve them in the events that make mom or dad so sad? Despite of not knowing it’s a goodbye forever, they can wave goodbye and give grandpa a big kiss during his last days, and with some help they can light a last candle for him together at the funeral.

As for the practical reasoning and not being able to sit calm for the 1.5 hour duration of the ceremony, if you´re prepared for that it’s fine. We arranged with my father in law that he would take over if the little guy would get a bit fuzzy and take him out so that I didn’t have to worry about that and could focus on my own grief. This arrangement worked out pretty well, he was there in the beginning of the ceremony, took a nap outside in his stroller and came back in the end.

Besides, I think my dad would have liked his grandson there bouncing on his favorite songs, waving goodbye and giving an occasional yell to grab the attention because that’s also what he liked most when he was still in his chair in the living room.

Tineke Franssen

Tineke Franssen is a working mom abroad that is trying to keep her sanity amongst cultural clashes both at work and at home (Spanish parents in law anyone?). When she is not in the office or working through piles of laundry, you can find her drinking wines with friends, watching Grey´s Anatomy, playing fieldhockey or writing on her blog

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